Senior solicitor who slapped young paralegal’s backside suspended


SDT: Solicitor abused his position

An experienced male solicitor found to have inappropriately touched a 21-year-old female paralegal, including slapping her backside, has been suspended for a year.

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) also banned Musharaf Javid Asharaf from managing any staff on his return to practice, saying he had abused his position.

Mr Asharaf had denied touching the paralegal and accused her of making the allegations up to get “revenge” on him after he chastised her for her behaviour in the office, but the tribunal preferred her account of events.

At the time of the misconduct in late 2018/early 2019, Mr Asharaf, who qualified in 1994, was 53. He was working as a solicitor and office manager at SPG Law in Liverpool, now Pogust Goodhead, and was responsible for managing the paralegals. He left the firm in the wake of these events.

The SDT found that, on more than one occasion, the solicitor stood “in close proximity” to ‘Person A’ in the office and rubbed or touched her shoulders.

She said she felt she could not tell him to stop doing this because his reaction to “minor” comments could be “unpredictable”. She said the touching made her feel “awkward and uncomfortable” and that she would try and move away from him without drawing attention to the situation.

The second incident occurred while they passed each other in a corridor, when Mr Asharaf turned and slapped her on the buttocks. The prosecution said Person A responded by asking, “What have you just done?” He replied, “Is that sexual harassment?”, and then walked away.

While she did not formally report this incident at the time – fearing she would lose her job at a time when she was hoping to obtain a training contract – she did text two colleagues to tell them what had happened, which the tribunal considered “strong supportive evidence”.

Soon after, at the firm’s Christmas party, Mr Asharaf referred to her breasts as “two mountains on your chest”. Mr Asharaf claimed to have no recollection of this, saying his drinks had been spiked, but the SDT did not believe this.

In the final incident, Person A was bending over a desk and Mr Asharaf bumped his crotch area into her from behind. She immediately turned and asked why he had done that.

He said, “It’s your fault for having such a fat…”, and then stopped himself finishing the sentence before going on: “I’m not saying anything because I will get myself in trouble.”

At this point, Person A reported the solicitor to HR. The Solicitors Regulation Authority told the SDT: “Despite fearing she would not be believed and labelled a troublemaker, Person A made the report as she felt if she didn’t, Mr Asharaf would continue to target young girls entering the legal profession.”

In his defence, Mr Asharaf said the allegations were malicious and that Person A wanted to “make his life hell” after he had reprimanded her for misbehaviour in the office with formal warnings and a final written warning.

The SDT rejected this and the notion that Person A wanted to “get her revenge”. While it accepted he had spoken to Person A about her conduct, the SDT did not find that Mr Asharaf had given her a final written warning following her absence from her desk for an extended period; the firm had not found any evidence of it.

“The tribunal preferred the account of Person A, whom it found to be a truthful witness. Her account had been consistent from her complaint to the firm in January 2019 through to her evidence before the tribunal.”

It decided that Mr Asharaf had damaged public trust, shown a lack of integrity and taken advantage of a third party. In relation to the two incidents where he touched Person A’s backside, the tribunal said he had been sexually motivated.

“His actions were in direct contravention of, on his own case, his responsibility for the physical and mental health of the paralegals.

“He had pursued an improper course of conduct, subjecting Person A to inappropriate touching, inappropriate comments, slapping her bottom and deliberately bumping into her when she was bent over a desk.”

The SDT said Mr Asharaf’s conduct was “aggravated by his abuse of his position of power and authority over Person A” and that he had behaved as he did “due to Person A’s age, sex and junior status”.

In July 2018, a different SDT fined Mr Asharaf £5,000 for various accounts rules breaches, ruling his conduct breached public trust and lacked integrity. While the misconduct was dissimilar, the proximity of those findings and these actions was “of extreme concern” and an aggravating feature too.

In mitigation, Mr Asharaf said he had been working as a property consultant for the past two years, his decision not to practise “a direct result” of the case.

He said he was placed under “extreme pressure” to meet targets in relation to group litigation the firm was handling at the time and that, by the first week of December 2018, was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.

His counsel, Geoffrey Williams KC, had argued for a financial penalty but the SDT said that was not appropriate. “The seriousness of the misconduct was such there was a need to protect both the public and the reputation of the profession by removing Mr Asharaf’s ability to practise, however those factors did not require that Mr Asharaf be struck off the roll.

“Mr Asharaf’s lack of insight into his misconduct called into question his continued ability to practise appropriately. His misconduct, together with the aggravating features, meant that his misconduct was so serious that he should be suspended from practice.”

It said 12 months would be adequate and thereafter he would be subject to an indefinite restriction preventing him from acting as a manager or supervisor of any member of staff.

Conditions preventing him from practising as a sole practitioner or partner of a law firm or holding a compliance role continue to be in place from the 2018 hearing.

Mr Asharaf was also ordered to pay costs of £17,500, which the SDT reduced from £23,000.




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